By  on May 27, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Guess is revisiting the successes of its youth.

The Los Angeles-based apparel line made its name in the Eighties with the introduction of its Marilyn jean — a slim-fit, zippered, stone-washed design that redefined denim. Now Guess is opting to take advantage of shifting consumer spending habits by tailoring its denim assortment to those shoppers looking for greater value from premium denim.

“Everyone is talking about the macroeconomic climate and we’re trying to use it to refocus consumer awareness that we’re a huge denim brand,” said John Landis, Guess Inc.’s vice president of design. “You’ve had all these premium denim options over the past few years that clouded the denim market. It’s not possible that there are 800 brands that have authentic denim roots.”

Guess will increase the percentage of denim in company stores to 40 percent from the current 30 percent, space that will be freed up as the company replaces tailored jackets, pants and skirts, as well as fancy shirts and dresses. However, dresses will still appear in holiday collections.

The company’s focus is now on a midtier price zone between $108 and $148, which co-founder Paul Marciano and Landis believe will enable Guess to grab market share from other labels.

“Those are opportunity price points,” Landis said. “It’s not that we haven’t had them before and we don’t want to ever cheapen the brand. We’re just shifting more of our denim into that range. We’re getting creative in how we do it, like looking at international partners for sourcing.”

Guess’ fall and holiday collections will reflect the change, with motorcycle and military styles reigning supreme, while spring will usher in bohemian influences with lighter washes and colors. The more casual, denim-centric approach also serves to differentiate and prevent customer base cannibalization between Guess and the higher-end Marciano line, which was recently renamed Guess by Marciano.

Analysts who cover the company believe the new strategy leaves Guess well-positioned to grab the attention of value-minded shoppers.

“Across retail, fashion is selling right now and basic is not,” said Christine Chen, a Needham & Co analyst. “People want more fashion for their money and within each respective income level there isn’t price resistance if there’s a perception of fashion value.”

While longtime consumers may associate Guess with red triangular pocket labels and iconic ad campaigns featuring models like Claudia Schiffer and Anna Nicole Smith, the critical matter is whether the company can capture the attention of twentysomethings who are unaware of Guess’ jeans-centered heritage.

“Guess has to be careful not to overhaul entire stores and dictate to customers what they should be buying,” Chen said. “They’ve done well in the past with a slow migration. It gives time for adoption.”

To bring its audience up to speed, Guess is channeling its past by launching an advertising campaign that will hit the August issues of fashion magazines including InStyle, Lucky, Vanity Fair, Vogue and W. The ads, which will run in both black-and-white and color, feature Candace Boucher, Klara Wester and Bruno Santos. The campaign was shot on the streets of downtown Los Angeles using a warehouse as a backdrop to lend a raw, urban feel to the images, something Landis believes will resonate with Guess customers.

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